Pinnacle Bank Arena: Economic Slam Dunk or Air Ball?

The Pinnacle Bank Arena is Lincoln's West Haymarket represents the largest construction project the city has participated in. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
A family takes pictures in front of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln's West Haymarket. The arena and other construction projects have attracted curious people to the area for some time, even though the arena won't host an event until August 16th. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
The sun set behind the Pinnacle Bank Arena, located just a short walk away from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's city campus. The proximity to campus is one of the aspects carefully considered by the arenas's developers, as it will host Husker men's and women's basketball. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
Work on the Rail Yard continues across from the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The horseshoe-shaped entertainment district will feature several new dining and shopping opportunities. It will also host concerts, festivals, outdoor markets and movie nights. The Rail Yard is being developed by WRK and Chief Industries. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
The Pinnacle Bank Arena will complete a "sports triangle" with Haymarket Park and Memorial Stadium. Now that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a member of the Big Ten, arena supporters say the new facility will help attract a greater number of college basketball fans who like to travel and take in games at different venues. Supporters point out the added number of travelers will most likely bring their wallets with them, and spend money in the local economy. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
The location of the Pinnacle Bank Arena was carefully considered, and supporters say it will help breathe new life into Lincoln's downtown. Critics, however, say too much time and money is already being spent downtown, while other areas of the city are neglected. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
In May, officials with Mortenson Construction, the company building the Pinnacle Bank Arena, gave members of the media a walk-through of the facility. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
A view from floor of the Pinnacle Bank Arena as construction crews continue to work. The arena can seat up to 15,900 people for a concert, and 14,970 for basketball games. Because of the split-deck upper levels, developers say fans in the "nosebleed" seats will still feel a part of the action because the vertical design allows the audience to be closer to the floor. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
A worker installs part of the seating elements on the retractable risers on the ground-level of the Pinnacle Bank Arena. Developers say the retractable seating adds to the versatility of the arena, and will allow a greater number of events to be held there. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
Taps at the Pinnacle Bank Arena sit covered up, awaiting to be used. There are 73 concession points of sale in the 470,000-square-foot facility. Currently, the sale of beer will be prohibited at Husker athletic events. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
This is the view looking out of the second floor of the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The top of the Rail Yard is directly across from this vantage point, and the dome of the Nebraska Capitol building can be seen in the distance. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
Inside one of the luxury suites at the Pinnacle Bank Arena. There are a total of 36 Founders & Executive suites like this, and an additional 20 loge boxes at the arena. GM Tom Lorenz says most of the luxury boxes are on 10-year contracts, and range in price from $45,000 to $65,000 per year. All of the boxes have been contracted out. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
The Pinnacle Bank Arena's state-of-the-art, four-sided scoreboard is unlike anything else in the Big Ten. Each side of the high-definition scoreboard, made by Panasonic, is 16 1/2 feet tall and 22 feet wide. Those dimensions don't include topper, which is another full video board measuring 6 feet tall, and 22 feet wide. The top of the screen will offer game data and statistics, while the larger main screens will offer video replays during games or closeups of an entertainer. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
Game night at the Viaero Event Center in Kearney. Unlike the Pinnacle Bank Arena, the VEC is privately owned. General Manager of the VEC, Greg Shea, says private ownership of arenas allows for decisions about changes and upgrades to be made more rapidly, which is a benefit. The drawback, according to Shea, is all of the financing comes from a private individual as opposed to a city-wide tax base. (Photo courtesy of Viaero Event Center)
Country singer Jason Aldean plays to a packed house at the Viaero Event Center. VEC General Manager Greg Shea says his facility attracts patrons from a 14-county region in central Nebraska. Shea says patrons would have to drive to Lincoln or Denver to receive the same quality of entertainment provided by the Viaero Event Center. (Photo courtesy of Viaero Event Center)
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August 8, 2013 - 6:30am

The new Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln is set to open next week. Supporters say the new entertainment and sports venue is just what Nebraska needs to begin competing on the national stage economically. Critics, though, have major concerns with the project. 


Lincoln’s latest sky-line changing project, the Pinnacle Bank Arena, will open its doors to the public in just a few days. The 470,000-square-foot facility will be home to Husker men’s and women’s basketball. It is also being touted as a state-of-the-art venue for concerts, conventions, and other events.

“We get the keys on August 14. We’ll do the UNL graduation on August 16 and 17,” Tom Lorenz said. He’s the general manager of the $179 million arena in Lincoln’s West Haymarket. He’s also the man hundreds of people will now call their boss.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Tom Lorenz is the general manager of the Pinnacle Bank Arena. He has been serving in the same capacity at Pershing Auditorium since 2000. Both entertainment venues are managed by SMG.

“We just went through a job fair where we had over 900 people apply and we hired 400-450 of those, and we’ll probably hire some additional part time people,” Lorenz said.

In addition to job creation, arena supporters have said it will also spur economic growth by helping other local businesses grow.

“Our food sources will come from Pegler-Sysco and some other suppliers. We’ll be buying popcorn from Colby Ridge, which is a great Lincoln, local company. We’ll have a Valentino’s stand in there, so that great hometown Valentino’s brand will be present in the arena,” Lorenz explained.

He went on to point out further evidence of the arena’s economic impact is obvious when you look across the street, where work on a new horseshoe-shaped entertainment district known as “The Rail Yard” is wrapping up.

The Rail Yard will feature several new restaurants, bars, and shopping opportunities for the estimated 700,000 people the Pinnacle Bank Arena will attract annually.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Greg Shea is the general manager of Viaero Event Center in Kearney. The VEC is home to the Tri-City Storm, a USHL hockey team. Shea is the former president of the Kearney Chamber of Commerce, and is in a unique position to see the economic impact of the arena from inside and outside of the operation. He says while every arena strives to support itself economically, often times their true value comes in raising the quality of life in a given area.

VEC by the Numbers

The Viaero Event Center serves a 14-county region in Central Nebraska. Since opening in 2000, the VEC has had 1,729,000 patrons come through its doors. An average of 50 events are held at the VEC each year, bringing in an average of 133,000 people per year.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Jane Kinsey was a member of the group No2Arena, and is now a part of Lincoln Watchdogs. She questions the economic viablility of the Pinnacle Bank Arena and the entertainment district which is being built around it. Kinsey says the project will not live up to expectations, and the tax payers will be left to shoulder the hundreds of millions of dollars it took to build the arena and infrastructure around it.

While the economic impact of Lincoln’s new arena is still mostly speculation, in Kearney, the impact of the Viaero Event Center is quite real according to General Manager Greg Shea.

He used to be the president of the Kearney Chamber of Commerce, and said he knows the benefits of event centers inside and out. Shea said not only does his arena help area residents by employing around 250 part-time and 20 full-time workers, but the Viaero Event Center helps the local economy by attracting patrons from miles around.

“When those people come here, it’s an event. So they’re coming here and typically staying overnight, they’re typically eating at our restaurants, they’re filling up their car to leave the next day, and they’re visiting our mall and our downtown and places like that,” Shea said.

Back in Lincoln, many see the new arena and Rail Yard projects as great economic opportunities, but not everyone is convinced it’s money well spent.

“We’re a voice crying in the wilderness, I guess you could say,” Jane Kinsey said.

Kinsey was part of a small but vocal group called No2Arena. As the name implies, they were opposed to building the Pinnacle Bank Arena and the surrounding entertainment district—mainly because the arena is being financed primarily through tax dollars.

“In the long run, the taxpayers are at risk. That’s ridiculous for entertainment. Give me something else, give me the self-built way. Give me a job program to develop to have people come in here. Something realistic,” Kinsey said.

Lincoln has already borrowed $300 million in bonds to pay for the arena.  60 percent of that cost will be paid for through a citywide occupation tax which is levied on businesses like restaurants, bars, and hotels.

Tom Lorenz and arena supporters have asserted the Pinnacle Bank Arena is well positioned, and won’t have a problem paying off the bonds. Lorenz said the low cost of financing and a greater than anticipated return from the occupation tax could help pay off the bonds with time to spare.

However, Lorenz said the arena should never be looked at as a cash cow anyway. Aside from helping locally-owned businesses, he said perhaps the arena’s greatest value will be attracting new residents to Nebraska.

“The more exciting things happen, the more students will stay around, the more that those young professionals will be here. We’ll be very attractive for companies to come and locate because we can maintain and keep those highly educated kids that come from UNL and come from Concordia and come from all the different colleges here,” Lorenz said.

Jane Kinsey, however, doubted if that approach will work.

“You tell me, how many young people who look for a job are going to look at entertainment before job security and income? If they are, they’re not going to last,” Kinsey said.

While economic growth may have been centered on people finding a good place to work in the past, Richard Baier with the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce said that certainly won’t be the only factor in the future.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Richard Baier is the executive vice president of the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce. Baier says he and his colleagues have done extensive research into how communities can attract and retain young professionals. Baier says projects like the Pinnacle Bank Arena and Rail Yard in Lincoln go a long way in changing the attitude and perception of a community, and will be helpful in making Lincoln stand out to perspective workers looking for a place to live.

“Today’s young people can choose thousands of cities to live in, not just in the United States, but around the world,” Baier said.

In what he calls the “21st Century Community”,  Baier said workers will be attracted by what a community has to offer for recreation as much as what it has to offer for employment. As he explained it, the arena, rail yard, and the energy those bring to Lincoln may be just as important for economic growth as any business.

“I would tell you personally I have some young people in my house that are talking differently about Lincoln than they did before, and that’s because of what they’re hearing on the TV and the radio,” Baier said.

And if attracting young professionals to move to or stay in Nebraska is the goal, perhaps “talking differently” about the area is a good start.

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